UAE has become an Education Hub of the Middle East
Sunday, February 15th, 2009
Interview with Dr. Saeed Abdullah Salman, President of Ajman University of Science and Technology Network, conducted by Rainer Schubert, Managing Editor, ARAB FORUM
Education is one subject, if not the subject, deemed in the Arab countries as being relevant to the future. For one thing, the majority of the population is under 25 years old and, for another, the oil-producing states must be ready for the time when their oil wells and their revenues dry up. A knowledge-based society is a pillar to build the future on in order to retain and increase their prosperity. ARAB FORUM spoke with Dr. Saeed Abdullah Salman, President of the Ajman University of Science and Technology Network, about the educational efforts in the United Arab Emirates and the role of the Arabic language in the future knowledge-based society.
ARAB FORUM: What is the intention behind the current large-scale development of the education sector in the United Arab Emirates and the Arab world in general?
Dr. Salman: The demand for education services in Arab countries over the last three decades has risen much faster than governments could supply. This has necessitated the emergence of private educational institutions. According to the report of 2007 by the Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO), the number of students in Arab universities will exceed six million by 2010. With high demand and a growing youth population, the education budget in GCC countries is now more than $35 billion. In the UAE’s very fast growing economy there are 58 accredited institutions of higher education, 60 non-accredited higher education institutions, and more than 20 international universities in Dubai Knowledge Village.
Aware of the importance of the contribution of education to economic growth, the UAE has both encouraged and regulated the education sector, aiming to link it with the economic and industrial sectors by providing them with highly skilled graduates. Moreover, the UAE has quickly become an education hub in the Middle East. In the long term the development of the UAE is closely linked to a knowledge based economy.
The Dubai government has recently established the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, supported by considerable funding. Other endorsed initiatives in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are likely to boost higher education in the future. Within this favorable environment, Ajman University of Science and Technology (AUSTN) is striving to strengthen its image and position in the higher education industry, not only in the UAE only but also across the Arab region.
ARAB FORUM: What are the goals and specifications of AUSTN?
Dr. Salman: AUSTN has adopted a three dimensional comprehensive vision based on education, information and investment. Today, we are celebrating 21 years of teaching, training, research, expertise and practice, which are the five fundamental standards of our faculty members.
Last year, we launched a reform and development project through which we aspire to develop AUSTN’s staff and faculty members to enable them to acquire the latest knowledge and technology-based skills. We periodically invite international experts to assist our programs, and evaluate our outcomes and teaching methods to ensure they meet international standards. We aim to establish AUSTN as a futuristic university with an innovative virtual environment and an open system that will allow everyone to contribute to the advancement and progress of AUSTN and the UAE. Our aim is to strengthen ties with some of the elite institutions of Europe and America. We believe that involvement with experts and think-tanks will enrich our experience and ensure that our educational services attain global standards. In short, our priority is to play a significant role in the development of the UAE and the Arab world by providing high quality services and capable alumni who are ready to take the lead in the various spheres that they enter after graduation.
ARAB FORUM: Which German, cooperation partners does your country prefer in the fields of science and education?
Dr. Salman: The UAE and Germany are partners in all fields – particularly the health sector. Needless to say German products, though expensive, are highly appreciated in the UAE.
Our relationship with Germany is strong and privileged; we have mutual projects with the Universities of Erlangen, Munich, and Aachen. In 2006 we established a Center of Diabetes Care in cooperation with Karlsburg Institute; the College of Business Administration at AUST has a joint project with Hanover University in the management of health resources. We are also in the process of launching new academic programs and considering collaboration in fields such as urban planning, sports legislation, biochemistry, virology, and environmental studies. We have student exchange programs, and we also deal with German representative bodies in the UAE such as DAAD, the German Business Bureau in Dubai, and the Goethe Institute. In 2009 we will be hosting a ‘German week’ at AUSTN, and teaching German language in the Continuing Education Center. We are also organizing a business meeting with German businessmen in Dubai to discuss ways to provide career opportunities for our graduates, research project funding and a faculty exchange program. We currently exchange students with a number of German institutions, and have established relationships with the research centers, for example we cooperate with the Max Planck center on complementary medicine. We are also negotiating with the famous institute of Frauenhofer.
ARAB FORUM: What could be the main fields of cooperation?
Dr. Salman: Our relations will focus on research in its different types, as German institutes are renowned worldwide for innovation and excellence. German industry is known for its high standards of discipline and rigor, and we would like our students acquire such skills. Next March we are inviting German firms operating in the UAE to provide venues for our students to train in such professional environments. Our faculty members also participate in conferences held in Germany.
ARAB FORUM: What does AUSTN and other institutions do to implement an environmental consciousness in the Middle East?
Dr. Salman: The first AUSTN masters’ degree was offered by the Institute of Environment, Water and Energy in Ground Water Engineering and Management. After fifteen years of field study, the first reference work to water resources in the UAE was published by the Dean of that institute in June 2008. The same institute won the GCC prize in 2005 as the best institution for its efforts in the protection of the environment. The institute’s members contribute to the spreading of environmental culture in local community institutions not only in the UAE but also in other GCC countries. We cooperate with research centers specializing in environmental issues by organizing joint events and sharing research experiences in energy and water resources. We are also conducting research projects in renewable and friendly environment energy research projects in coordination with well reputed institutions such as Boston University in the United States.
ARAB FORUM: The majority of students in the United Arab Emirates are female. How will this predominance influence society in the Emirates and Arab countries in the future?
Dr. Salman: The United Arab Emirates is firmly committed to the enhancement of the status of women and the constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women. Women are also providing a growing proportion of the national workforce, occupying posts ranging from senior civil servants to engineers and bankers, as well as traditional jobs in teaching and healthcare. Educational opportunities have given UAE women a chance to participate in the development of society alongside men. Today they are making their presence felt in society as civil servants, university professors, teachers, lawyers, and as members of the police force and the army. Some prime examples of women playing a significant role in society include H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, who has taken the role of the UAE’s Minister of Economy, and H.E. Mariam Al Roomi, who is the Minister of Social Affairs. The future will witness women and men sharing power and achieving success, with Islamic culture providing equal opportunities to women and men in all fields.
ARAB FORUM: What will be the future role of Arab culture and the Arabic language within the international scientific community?
Dr. Salman: Several government initiatives have been launched to further a sense of belonging and pride in the Arab Culture. These include the “Tarjim/translate” project initiated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, involving the translation of 365 books per year, and the “Kalima” project in Abu Dhabi. These projects will contribute to the enrichment of Arabic cultural and intellectual life, and encourage the promotion of knowledge. Moreover, we were glad to hear of the ministerial decree officializing the use of Arabic in all correspondence in government and private organizations. At the university we have started a number of projects aimed at reviving the role of Arabic through the development of a course in Arabic communication. Arabic is the teaching medium in three of our colleges and we have specific terminology that we have accumulated since 1998 with the contribution of Arab linguists, scholars and experts. In addition, we organize workshops and seminars tackling the contribution of the Arabic language in the dialogue of civilizations and religions, and building new channels of communication. In my capacity as Honorary President of the Association of Arab Private Institutions for Higher Education, and the President of the EURO-ARAB research network, I have always sought to make the Arabic language play its role in the interaction between East and West, and in the unprecedented flow of information in this globalized era. I have also promoted, on more than one occasion, the ‘Arabization’ of the teaching of science and mathematics in the Arab world, bearing in mind that academic productivity can be maximized when using the native language.
conducted the interview
The interview was made possible with the kind assistance of Haroun Sweis
Dr. Saeed Abdullah Salman is not only President of Ajman University of Science and Technology Network (AUSTN), he is also President of the Association of Arab Private Institutions of Higher Education and of the Euro-Arab Research Network.
Even before the founding of the United Arab Emirates on December 2, 1971, he functioned as General Secretary of the Dhabi Advisory Council. With the founding of the state, he took over the office of Minister of Housing and Urban Planning and subsequently became the first Ambassador of his country in Paris (1977 until 1979) and to the European Community in Brussels. Back in the UAE, he assumed the position of Minister of Education and Youth until 1983. At the same time, he held the office of Minister of Agriculture and Fishing and in addition was a member of the UNESCO Executive Council.
Dr. Salman has been very involved in various educational facilities as their initiator. Besides founding Ajman College of Science and Technology, he worked on the establishment of the Mediterranean University of Science and Technology (MUS) in Valencia (Spain), Muscat College of Science and Technology (Oman), and the Euro-Arab Research Network.
What is AUSTN?
AUSTN is the oldest private university in the UAE, a factor which has allowed it to accumulate extensive experience in managing and running a private institution of higher education. It has the largest number of enrolled students (11,051) of any private university in the UAE. AUSTN has two campuses, at Ajman and Fujairah; both are purpose-built and equipped with modern teaching facilities. The university’s 10 colleges offer 37 accredited programs, for some of which the number of applicants exceeds the number of available seats. Since 1988, 18,449 students have graduated from AUSTN and found employment in a variety of sectors. The university has an excellent multicultural environment, enjoyed by students of more than 70 nationalities. Although the facilities are ‘state-of-the-art,’ tuition fees remain affordable.
On its two campuses AUSTN provides open and innovative environments in which the latest educational methods and communication tools – CCTV, e-Learning, Video Conferencing, Smart boards, and multimedia labs – are used to further interactivity. All staff members have ICDL certificates and the English proficiency test certificate (TOFEL, IELTS, iBT, TOEIC). To guarantee quality, AUSTN had contracted a number of experts and highly reputed institutions to train its faculty and to evaluate its progress. AUSTN contracted Microsoft to educate faculty and students on the usage of the latest educational technology and concluded an agreement with Human Logic Company for e-solutions to build an e-Learning infrastructure. The goal is to have all courses taught electronically. AUSTN also deals directly with Martin Dougiamas, the founder of Moodle, a system through which courses will be delivered.
According to 2007 Federal National Council statistics, the UAE is ranked second place among Arab countries (after Jordan) in education in the Arab world, first in education spending, and first in the numbers of young people entering university (95 percent women and 80 percent men).
Further information: www.ajman.ac.ae